Walking the Board Alongside Stand-Bot

Walking the Board Alongside Stand-Bot

Daily stand-ups are the heartbeat of Scrum and have also made their way into several Kanban-practicing teams. But, as popular as dailies are, some people just seem to not like them at all.

The main issue related to stand-ups is that they can quickly become meetings where some attendees end up talking about irrelevant topics to most of the team, just for the sake of answering the three classic questions:

  • What did you accomplish yesterday?
  • What will you be working on today?
  • Do you have any blockers?

Asking the same questions to the same people daily can quickly wear off. Not only that but tasks that have not yet been assigned could be forgotten. These anti-patterns tend to emerge when dailies don't focus on discussing progress towards reaching the Sprint goal, which happens more often than thought.

Topics to check

1. The Daily Stand-up

a. Round Robin - The classic structure
b. Walking the Board

2. Visualizing the flow of work

a. Scrum board vs. Kanban board

3. When to Walk the Board

a. Good practices
b. Using a specialized tool

1. The Daily Stand-up##

The daily stand-up, sometimes called "daily scrum," is a vital element of said framework, but it has also proven effective for teams with other styles, such as Kanban. But, as noted in the introduction, it seems that, sometimes, dailies can do more harm than good.

Even if common, these anti-patterns aren't inherent to daily stand-ups. If your meetings end up flooded with people describing everything they've done, including what they had for breakfast, there's an issue in how you're conducting them. Which can permanently be fixed.

But before correcting any stand-up habits, it's essential to understand the ideal way in which sessions should happen.

a. Round Robin - The classic structure#####

As stated, this format requires each attendant to share their current work status. Whether based on the three-question formula, or a custom one, the risk of this technique is that people might end up talking just for its sake. That alone could make your session go beyond the 15-minute ideal length, possibly disrupting the whole team's daily agenda.

Check these 8 tips to improve your daily stand-ups.

You should never forget that stand-ups are meetings held to check progress towards the current Sprint goal. Any unrelated information might be irrelevant to the whole team. The best way to ensure that discussions keep productive is to follow tasks or user stories instead of peers' status.

b. Walking the Board####

This technique consists of checking the status of the items on the board, starting with the ones closest to completion. You go from right to left, mainly because tasks closer to getting completed are also more likely to deliver value faster than those in earlier stages. As the specialist, Gary Straughan, states in this video, "income now beats income later, and income tomorrow beats income next week."

This way of reviewing the board is taken straight out of Kanban and differs from the more Scrum-related Round Robbin model in several aspects, such as:

  • Based on a project perspective, tasks' status check is prioritized over peers' input, enhancing the flow of work.

  • To address the requirements to accomplish the Sprint goal it goes from general issues to particular situations.

  • Focusing on items closer to completion is an effective way of delivering value as early as possible, not only for customers but also for the team, as it might clear blockers in others' paths.

2. Visualizing the flow of work##

One critical point that Walking the Board can address is to help you ensure that no task gets forgotten. As the main focus is to check all work items that must be completed to reach the Sprint goal, it's always critical to keep an eye on them. Throwing in some visual support will make it easier to do so.

Several software solutions for product development and project management offer different views for managing your work. Platforms such as Jira or monday let you visualize your workflows on boards, which is really useful for Walking the Board.

a. Scrum Board vs. Kanban Board####

A visual representation of your workflows will make them more manageable. If you use Jira, you can choose between a Scrum or Kanban board. You must take some considerations into account:

  • A Scrum Board is structured for work in Sprints, with a general Backlog where all issues are put before being chosen as items that will be delivered to reach the Sprint goal.

  • On the other side, a Kanban board is structured toward a continuous flow of work items, with a more straightforward layout.

  • Work states are represented by columns, going from the Backlog to a Done phase. Work items advance through these columns on both boards.

Whichever one you choose, if you can have a broad view of all the deliverables, you can Walk the Board on it.

If you are having a hard time remembering Scrum-related concepts, it might be good to check out our guide on How to adopt Scrum in your team.

3. When to walk the board##

To successfully do so, you must make sure that everybody in the team understands the new dynamics. Aside from checking the status of tasks whose delivery is required to achieve the Sprint Goal, it's crucial to plan the work for the day and let people self-organize around it.

a. Good practices####

Just checking the items closer to completion during your stand-ups won't do the work alone. You must optimize your sessions as possible to prevent anti-patterns from rising. Keep in mind the following practices:

Manage Work In Progress (WIP) - One helpful lesson from Kanban is limiting the number of items considered to be WIP. There is no magic formula for calculating how many work items a team can handle simultaneously; therefore, it's vital to monitor its performance and calibrate ad hoc limits.

You may consider setting limits based on:

  • People - How many tasks a single person should simultaneously handle.

  • Work state - How many tasks a column can contain.

  • What can be finished today? - You can even ask the question during the meeting and might get some insights into the work that can be delivered that day. If not, check the items closer to completion and focus on them.

  • Blocked isn't a working state - Some teams add a Blocked column, where they place issues that can't further advance. That's an anti-pattern, as tasks should be finished, not pilled up.

  • Rotate the Facilitator role - Scrum or Kanban, don't let the Product Owner (PO) or Scrum Master (SM) act as managers of the Stand-ups. Shift the role on a daily or weekly basis to foster engagement.

b. Using a specialized tool####

Talking about tools, the Stand-Bot Premium Plan can come in handy. It takes on the responsibility of checking the daily status of all your mates, regardless of their time zone, gathering the data, and sharing it publicly through Slack.

You can configure it to run its asynchronous Stand-ups on a daily, weekly, or custom cadence, and soon, it will be able to ask any question you want, so it better fits your reporting needs.

Consider that you can trigger Stand-Bot Premium Plan's many unique features by using easy-to-remember Slack commands.

For example: If you are Walking the Board on your own as the PM and you want to know what has happened with an item that is blocked, you can see who is in charge of it and ask Stand-Bot to show the owner's prior sent status with the @standbot status + @username command. It would then show more details of the issue, so you start thinking about how to solve it.

Another scenario: It is a crucial iteration, and you need to make sure that two high-priority features get delivered for production by the end of the week. Erick and Sheila are in charge of mentioned tasks, but you do not want to disrupt them with meetings or ask them to update cards on a Jira board. You do need, however, to learn how things are going.

Then you can type @standbot unskip @username, both with Erick and Sheila usernames. Stand-Bot will not let them skip, propitiating them to share an update (or raise a red flag).

In conclusion####

Walking the board can be an excellent spin to your actual Agile practices, as it can help you save time on many levels. We also think that choosing the right set of tools is critical for any project to be successful, but it is more important that you have the right ideas on the objectives you want to achieve with them, so we hope this post has been enlightening for you.

Are you adopting or looking to improve your Agile practices? Is your team remote? If your answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’, you should check out our products for distributed teams. We focus on making communication more effective and easier for remote teams.

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